Council tax arrears
If you miss a council tax payment, the council should send you a reminder giving you seven days to pay, otherwise you lose the right to pay in installments.
If you did not pay the installment, your second reminder will state that you have 14 days to pay the whole amount outstanding for the remainder of the financial year. Some councils may still accept payments in installments., but this will depend on their discretion.
If you fail to make the required payments, you will receive a summons. This is a court document stating the amount you are required to pay, which will include costs as well as the tax arrears. You have the right to attend and explain the situation.
The summons must be heard at least 14 days prior to the hearing date. The summons can be served by posting it to your last known address. This isn’t normally a problem, since council tax refers to the property where you live, however, it can be an issue if you have moved and the council has not been notified or if the tax is for another property you own.
If you do not attend, the council will obtain a liability order. A liability order allows the council to take enforcement action, such as sending bailiffs to seize goods.
If you are able to pay, you can make a payment using your debit card, otherwise you may need to submit a budget sheet with an offer of weekly or monthly installments. The council may decide to cancel the summons and waive the court costs if you keep to the agreement.
If you dispute the debt, contact the council straight away with your reasons, for example, because you were not living in the property at the time.
At the hearing, the magistrates will decide whether you are liable for the council tax and make a liability order. You don’t need to attend the hearing if you agree that you are liable for the tax.
The court will usually make the order unless you have already paid the tax or the council has not followed proper procedure, stated the wrong name on the summons or you can prove to the court that you are not liable for the tax.
You can ask the court to adjourn the hearing if you have applied for Council Tax Reduction or if you have appealed to a valuation tribunal because you don’t agree you are responsible for the tax or you don’t agree with the amount.
The council can take steps to recover the tax owed by the following means:
The court must hold an enquiry with you present. This is to find out if you can afford to pay the bill. If the court doesn’t think you have a valid reason for not paying, it can send you to prison for up to 3 months.
The magistrates will look at your financial situation and you should explain your circumstances and any reasons why you haven’t been able to pay.
Council tax is often collected by private firms of bailiffs on behalf of your local council. They try to take your goods away and sell them to raise money to pay the debt.
Check that the bailiff is certificated. There is an online register of certificated bailiffs.
The bailiffs should give you seven clear days’ notice that they are due to visit you. This is sometimes known as an ‘enforcement notice’. ‘Clear days’ do not include Sundays, Christmas Day or bank holidays. Contact the council and try to make an arrangement to pay what you can afford immediately. See bailiffs for more information.